Driving impressions of the new BMW i3 electric vehicle
Drive the new BMW i3 for less than a mile and you will understand why the car has a great chance to sell in whatever numbers BMW wants to make it in. Having driven and written about the BMW Active e, Tesla Model S, Honda Fit EV, and Nissan Leaf, I know and understand that EVs need to balance acceleration, cost, range and other factors. Unlike a gasoline powered car, EVs cannot have it all, even with massive financial support from you, the taxpayer. BMW has tipped the scales in an interesting way this author thinks will work.
Unlike the Honda Fit EV and Nissan Leaf, this new BMW i3 accelerates smartly from a stop, and keeps on accelerating if the driver wants it to. BMW is always conservative with performance numbers, but says the car will go from 0-60 in 7.2 seconds. It feels faster. In my opinion, BMW gave this car exactly the right amount of power. It has less dramatic acceleration than a Tesla Model S, but who cares? The Model S in its most commonly purchased form is more car than anyone really needs on public roads. The BMW i3 does not pretend to be more than a great passenger car. On the highway, where torque is the secondary factor to power, the i3 still has the pickup one needs to feel as if they are driving a premium automobile with guts. While on on-ramps it has much more pickup than you will need, and even better, it has as much as you will actually want.
I liked how the car steered. It is light in your hands (like a car with lots of power steering “boost”). The steering is laser sharp around town and on the highway. It is very direct. Let’s remember that this is a passenger car, not a sports car. If you accept that, as the vast majority of real-life drivers do, then this car handles well. I won’t comment on how it feels “at the limit.” People don’t drive passenger cars “at the limit.” I did not perform any emergency maneuvers but it sure felt like it would do fine, and a whole lot better than any truck, SUV, or large affordable car would.
The suspension is OK. I’d give it a B. It seems to handle bumps OK, but it was more harsh than I would expect a luxury car to be. Bumps that it was not able to absorb well rattled the structure more than I like. There is no B pillar in this car. The two side doors open opposite ways and the car is open like a clam shell when both are open. I swear I heard the door rattle over one set of bumps that were typical for this area (Northeast). Try it yourself and decide. One thing is for sure, it is not the mushy bland econobox feel of a Leaf, and it sure as heck is not sport-lux like a Tesla Model S. It is nicely in between.
Most EVs use the “one pedal” driving style. This means when you lift off the accelerator the car slows dramatically. I am not bothered by it. Some may be. You decide. The upside of this is that when you lift, you put energy into the battery. When I used the brakes they felt solid and I liked the pedal feel.